MHW: 2nd Destination Dignity Rally Advances the Cause of Dignity for our Community

NYAPRS Note: This year’s 2nd annual march for the dignity and rights of Americans with mental health condition was a truly unforgettable day, as upwards of 500 advocates from up and down the eastern seaboard came to stand up for our community and the generations to come and to bring that message through the streets of Washington DC, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
See photos from the day’s events at, the Mental Health Weekly article and a stirring piece by NYAPRS Board member and march co-organizer Julie Erdman.

Thanks to all of the national march organizers and to NYS leaders Julie Erdman, Jeff McQueen, Carla Rabinowitz, Sue Parinello, Theresa Hall, Tiffani Monti and Charles Sanchez.

Very special thanks are due to the organizations and individuals below, who donated $8,500 in the space of several days to pay for all 4 buses from New York City and Long Island: your instinctive dedication and commitment to our cause was simply inspiring and amazing: Rehabilitation Support Services, Institute for Community Living, Mental Health Association of Essex County, Community Access, National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, NYS Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Coalition for Behavioral Health Agencies, Association for Mental Health and Wellness, Aid to the Developmentally Disabled, Mental Health Association of NYS, Federation of Organizations, NYS Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, NYS Care Management Coalition, NYS Psychiatric Association, Association for Community Living, John Javis, Richard Weingarten, Mary Jane Alexander, Clarence Sundram, Dan Abreu, Laurie Coker, Phyllis Vine, Deborah Brooke, Michael McGuirl, Michael Hogan, Frank Dowling, Antonia Barba, Adam Black, Joel Dvoskin, Fran Greene and Davin Robinson.

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Second Destination Dignity Rally Continues Mission to Raise MH Awareness
Mental Health Weekly October 17, 2016

More than 500 consumers, mental health advocates, providers, field leaders, people with lived experiences and others descended on Washington, D.C., to mark the second annual Destination Dignity March for Dignity and Change in Mental Health. The event, held Oct. 10 on World Mental Health Day, brought together participants from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maryland and Virginia.

Destination Dignity organizers point to the need for an end to “un- conscionable levels of unemployment, incarceration, homelessness and disability” and “underfunding of services, harsh practices and fail-first systems in which involuntary status is [a] requirement for care,” according to the organization’s website. The inaugural march was held in August 2015, also in Washington, D.C (see MHW, Aug. 31, 2015).

Featured speakers and attendees included Brian Hepburn, M.D., executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors; Keris Myrick, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services; and Judge Ginger Lerner- Wren, who pioneered this country’s first mental health court in 1997 in Florida’s Broward County.

Founding partners of the coalition include the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery, Mental Health America (MHA) and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS).

“Destination Dignity is not just a rally or a march,” Debbie Plotnick, vice president for mental health and systems advocacy at MHA, told MHW. “It’s about human rights. It’s about inclusion.” Despite the fact that the event was also held on a national holiday, Columbus Day, it was a great turnout, said Plotnick. “It was a very fulfilling day, but it’s a start, a beginning,” she said.

“This event is about bringing people together under the broad tent of dignity and to be visible,” Eduardo Vega, chair of the Destination Dignity Mental Health Coalition and founder of Destination Dignity, told MHW. “Our purpose is to promote a recovery-oriented transformation system.” Additionally, the aim is to push for a reduction in the “unfortunate and intolerable disparities in the number of years people live less with mental health conditions,” he said.

In the intervening year, the coalition worked on its strategy, focusing on several core areas: homelessness, morbidity and mortality rate, restraint and seclusion, suicide, and unemployment, said Vega, who is also president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco and director of the Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment.

Vega said he and the Destination Dignity coalition are setting up parameters for things the United States should be focusing on in alignment with other nations and learning from the World Health Organization and others. “Our approach is not going to be about more of this or less of that,” he said. “What we do see is that the tide is turning and recovery is becoming the rule of the land for the ways programs are funded and outcomes are thought about.”

The color lime green is especially significant for their movement, said Vega. “It’s the international color for mental health awareness,” he said. “Part of our mission is to spread that awareness” in the same way that the color pink represents breast cancer awareness and red represents HIV/AIDS activism, he said. Vega said he is optimistic about next year’s march, anticipating at least 10,000 participants.

Public Perception
“One of the biggest challenges we face in the field is the public perception about mental health,” Arthur Evans, Ph.D., commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services, told MHW. The march represents not only changing the public’s perception about mental illness, but also recognizing the importance of treating people with dignity and respect. “That’s the message to the community,” he said.

It’s also important that people with lived experiences not feel ashamed despite what the messaging is from the larger society, added Evans, one of the event’s featured speakers.

Evans pointed to this year’s PRO- ACT Recovery Walks! on Sept. 17 at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, with a turnout of 26,000 people. The walk, which commenced in 2002 with 150 people in Philadelphia, continues to grow, he noted. “We started with humble beginnings,” said Evans. The recovery walk included representatives from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, he added.

Evans said he puts the Destination Dignity March in the same perspective as the recovery walk. The march represented a good showing, especially this early in the process, he said. This march, like the recovery walk, will continue to grow, he noted. “I have no doubt the same thing could happen with Destination Dignity,” he said. “This will grow into an event with tens of thousands represented.”

Walking in D.C.
The high point of this year’s march was the walk through the streets of Washington, D.C., parallel from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of NYAPRS. Last year, they walked along the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, he told MHW.

Participants held up posters with the key word “Enough!” said Rosenthal. “We’re looking for that moment to say enough to prejudice and discrimination and embody that dignity we deserve. We’re looking to create a movement to build grass- roots support,” he said.

The mental health community needs its own defining moment, added Rosenthal. He likens the Destination Dignity movement to the movement for blacks in Selma, for women at the Seneca Falls Convention and for the LGBT community at Stonewall, he said.

The next Destination Dignity March will be held again in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 10, 2017. “Our goal in 2018 is to do a bigger march in New York City,” said Rosenthal.

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Destination Dignity; Motive For A Movement
By Julie Erdman NYAPRS Board of Directors

Patricia E Deegan, PhD, disability rights advocate, psychologist, and self-disclosed mental health peer, states that peers who provide mental health support to other peers experience a combination of, “love and outrage,” in response to how they and the people they serve are treated by some traditional mental health providers. And if we draw back that lens from mental health treatment settings to society at large, the chasm between love and outrage becomes unbridgeable. Any attempt to cross between the two presents the risk of falling and failure.

Malignant stigma, blatant discrimination, and brutality are constant looming threats. For those of us with mental health challenges, the decision to passively accept the raw deal handed to us and make the most of it is the sign of a sane and sound mind.

Still, without risk there can be no change. When business as usual is actually an infraction of human rights, someone has to do something. That is when the brave and slightly unhinged non-conformists come in, willing to risk it all in the name of justice. That is love. They are not the bridge builders, who come in later to clean up the mess. These are the mold breakers, the gate crashers, and the wall smashers. That is outrage. That is us.

On October 10, 2016, at the second annual Destination Dignity rally and march in Washington D.C., five hundred of us met at the Capital Pool, and, taking up a lane of traffic, we marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Washington Monument, chanting, “Freedom! Recovery! Dignity for Everyone!” We had boarded the bus in Suffolk County at 5:00 AM and withstood the twelve-hour round-trip ride, carrying enough cash to buy food and tip the drivers (a large amount of money for most of us).

We showed up. We made and held signs. We shouted. Parents brought children. The children held up signs and made up their own chants. It was empowering. It helped us to heal and gave us hope for the future. Hope grounded in the knowledge that we, like activists from preceding social and human rights movements, can make the world a better place. On October 10, 2016, we stood on the shoulders of giants who came before us. What if women hadn’t advocated for the right to vote? If Brown hadn’t gone against the Board of Education? If the LBGTQ community hadn’t pushed for Proposition 8?

We are Destination Dignity. We stand for the 58% of us killed at the hands of law enforcement, for those who face unlawful arrest, and for those who endure cruelty of domestic violence and sexual and physical assault. We are sick and tired of having to prove goodness of character when there is no just cause to believe otherwise. We are on the front lines of change. We educate, empathize, and empower.

For Destination Dignity advocates, our ask is simple: see us as the effective, wise, capable, multi-faceted people that we are. We should not be assigned with perpetrating gun violence. We should not be detained at borders for having histories of mental health treatment. We should not be shot down. We should be able to parent, to work, to live undisturbed and be supported by society. We ask for dignity.